- Black Mass
- An obscene parody of the Catholic Holy Mass at which the DEVIL is worshipped. During the Inquisition, witch hunters and demonologists claimed that witches—or any heretics—frequently performed Black Masses as part of their infernal SABBATs with DEMONs and the Devil. Black Masses have been performed for centuries and occur in contemporary times, but it is doubtful that they have been as prevalent—or as outrageous—as often claimed.CharacteristicsThere is no single definitive Black Mass ritual. The purpose is to parody the Catholic Holy Mass by performing it or parts of it backward, inverting the cross, stepping or spitting on the cross, stabbing the host, and performing other sacrilegious acts. Urine is sometimes substituted for the holy water used to sprinkle the attendees, urine or water is substituted for the wine, and rotted turnip slices, pieces of black leather, or black triangles are substituted for the host. Black candles are substituted for white ones. The service is performed by a defrocked or renegade priest, who wears vestments that are black or the color of dried blood and embroidered with an inverted cross, a goat’s head, or magical symbols.One famous form of the Black Mass was the Mass of St. Secaire, said to have originated in the Middle Ages in Gascony for the purpose of cursing an enemy to death by a slow, wasting illness. Montague Summers provides a description of it in The History of Witchcraft andDemonology:The mass is said upon a broken and desecrated altar in some ruined or deserted church where owls hoot and mope and bats flit through the crumbling windows, where toads spit their venom upon the sacred stone. The priest must make his way thither late attended only by an acolyte of impure and evil life. At the first stroke of eleven he begins; the liturgy of hell is mumbled backward, the canon said with a mow and a sneer; he ends just as midnight tolls.The Mass of St. Secaire requires a triangular black host and brackish water drawn from a well in which the corpse of an unbaptized baby has been tossed.HistoryMagical uses of the Mass and alleged perversions of the Mass are almost as old as Christianity itself. In the second century, St. Irenaeus accused the Gnostic teacher Marcus of perverting the Mass. The Gelasian Sacramentary (ca. sixth century) documents masses to be said for a variety of magical purposes, including weather control, fertility, protection, and love divination. Masses also were said with the intent to kill people; these were officially condemned as early as 694 by the Council of Toledo.The magical significance of the Black Mass lies in the belief that the Holy Mass involves a miracle: the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. If the priest, as magician, can effect a miracle in a Holy Mass, then he surely can effect magic in a mass used for other purposes. Priests who attempted to subvert the Holy Mass for evil purposes, such as cursing a person to death, were condemned by the Catholic Church as early as the seventh century.Magical uses of the Mass increased in the Middle Ages. The beginnings of the organized Black Mass as part of Devil worship coincides with the expansion of the Inquisition and rising public fears about the evil powers of witches. The first witch trials to feature accusations of sabbats, Devil’s PACTs, and Black Masses all occurred in the 14th century.In 1307, the powerful and wealthy Order of the Knights Templar was destroyed on accusations of conducting blasphemous rites in which Christ was renounced and idols made of stuffed human heads were worshipped. The Knights Templar also were accused of spitting and trampling upon the cross and worshipping the Devil in the shape of a black cat. Members of the order were arrested, tortured, and executed.In 1440, GILLES DE RAIS, a French baron, was arrested and accused of conducting Black Masses in the cellar of his castle in order to gain riches and power. He was charged with kidnapping, torturing, and murdering more than 140 children as sacrifices. He was convicted and executed.In the 16th and 17th centuries, priests in France were arrested and executed for conducting Black Masses. Many of the masses were theatrical events intended for social shock and protest against the church; the seriousness of the actual “Devil worship” was dubious. For example, in 1500, the cathedral chapter of Cambrai held Black Masses in protest against their bishop. A priest in Orléans, Gentien le Clerc, tried in 1614–15, confessed to performing a “Devil’s mass,” which was followed by drinking and a wild sexual orgy.Black Masses figured in high-profile POSSESSION cases, such as the LOUVIERS POSSESSIONS in 1647. Ursuline nuns said they had been bewitched and possessed and were forced by chaplains—led by Abbé Thomas Boulle—to participate nude in Black Masses, defiling the cross, trampling upon the host, and having sex with demons. The height of the theatrical, anti-Catholic Black Mass was reached in the late 17th century, during the reign of Louis XIV, who was criticized for his tolerance of witches and sorcerers. It became fashionable among nobility to hire priests to perform erotic Black Masses in dark cellars. The chief organizer of these rites was Catherine Deshayes, known as “La Voisin,” a witch who told fortunes and sold love philters. La Voisin employed a cadre of priests who performed the masses, including the ugly and evil Abbé Guiborg, who were gold-trimmed and lacelined vestments and scarlet shoes.The mistress of Louis XIV, the marquise de Montespan, sought out the services of La Voisin because she feared the king was becoming interested in another woman. Using Montespan as a naked altar, Guiborg said three Black Masses over her, invoking Satan and his demons of lust and deceit, BEELZEBUB, ASMODEUS, and ASTAROTH, to grant whatever Montespan desired. While incense burned, the throats of children were slit and their blood poured into chalices and mixed with flour to make the host. Whenever the mass called for kissing the altar, Guiborg kissed Montespan. He consecrated the host over her genitals and inserted pieces in her vagina. The ritual was followed by an orgy. The bodies of the children were later burned in a furnace in La Voisin’s house.When the scandal of the Black Masses broke, Louis arrested 246 men and women, many of them some of France’s highest-ranking nobles, and put them on trial. Confessions were made under torture. Most of the nobility received only jail sentences and exile in the countryside. Thirty-six of the commoners were executed, including La Voisin, who was burned alive in 1680. Louis kept Montespan out of the trials, but she suffered great humiliation and disgrace. When Louis’ queen, Maria Theresa, died in 1683, he married another woman, Madame de Maintenon.Paralleling the theatrical and antichurch Black Masses were the accusations of Black Masses conducted by witches. In the 14th–18th centuries, inquisitors considered Devil worship in obscene rites to be an integral part of witchcraft. Victims tortured by witch hunters and inquisitors confessed to participating in obscene rituals at SABBATs, in which the cross was defiled and the Devil served as priest. It is doubtful that such sabbats actually took place as described by inquisitors and demonologists. There is no evidence that the Black Mass was part of historical European witchcraft.The Black Mass continued as a decadent fashion into the 19th century during an occult revival. Joris K. Huysmans’ 1891 novel Là-bas (Down There or Lower Depths) features the Gilles de Rais story. It draws upon Abbé Boulle from Louivers—Huysmans even inserted himself as a character—in its exploration of satanic rites and contains a description of the Black Mass.Durtal, the character who is based on Huysmans, is taken by a woman, Hyacinthe, to a dingy, moldy chapel that once was used by Ursuline nuns, then turned into a livery and a barn to store hay. It has been taken over by satanists. Among the participants is a debauched nun. A choking incense of henbane, datura, dried nightshade, and myrrh is burned. After a mass of obscenities and blasphemies and the desecration of the host, the place erupts in “a monstrous pandemonium of prostitutes and maniacs.” Participants, high on the fumes, tear off their clothes and writhe on the floor. Sexual acts are implied but not described by Huysmans; his two characters who are witnesses become disgusted and exit the scene. The HELL-FIRE CLUB, a fraternal group in London in the late 19th century, was said to perform a Black Mass regularly in worship of the Devil, though it is more likely that the rites were little more than sexual escapades with liberal quantities of alcohol.In the 20th century, the Black Mass became a staple of Devil worship novels and films. One of the most influential fictions was the 1934 novel The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley, with a black magician character, Morcata, modeled on ALEISTER CROWLEY. The novel was made into a film in 1968 by Hammer Films of England, during a time of occult revival and the birth of Witchcraft, or Wicca, as a religion. Black Masses are not part of modern Witchcraft, or Wicca, which emphasizes rituals composed of ceremonial magic and reconstructed pagan seasonal rites.The occult revival that began in the 1960s saw the birth of contemporary SATANISM as a religious practice, with varying views on the Black Mass. Satanic cults born of social rebellion also instituted Black Masses as a form of social shock.Aleister Crowley on the Black MassIn 1947, a Black Mass was performed at the graveside of Aleister Crowley during his funeral. During life, Crowley was described as practicing “black magic” and performing satanic rituals. However, he stated emphatically that he despised black magic and could never perform a Black Mass, which was an abuse of spiritual power. Crowley’s rituals were “anti-Christian”; that does not make them “satanic.” For example, he wrote a Gnostic Mass that remains a central ritual in the Ordo Templi Orientis magical order, of which he was head in England. In 1933, the London Sunday Dispatch newspaper published an article by Crowley on black magic. In it he commented on the Black Mass:In Paris, and even in London, there are misguided people who are abusing their priceless spiritual gifts to obtain petty and temporary advantages through these practices. The “Black Mass” is a totally different matter. I could not celebrate it if I wanted to, for I am not a consecrated priest of the Christian Church. The celebrant must be a priest, for the whole idea of the practice is to profane the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Therefore you must believe in the truth of the cult and the efficacy of its ritual.A renegade priest gathers about him a congregation of sensation-hunters and religious fanatics; then only can the ceremonies of profanation be of extended black magical effect.There are many ways of abusing the Sacrament. One of the best known of which is the “Mass of Saint Secaire,” the purpose of which is to cause an enemy to wither away.At this “mass,” always held in some secret place, preferably in a disused chapel, at midnight, the priest appears in canonical robes.But even in his robes there is some sinister change, a perversion of their symbolic sanctity. There is an altar, but the candles are of black wax. The crucifix is fixed the head downwards. The clerk to the priest is a woman, and her dress, although it seems to be a church garment, is more like a costume in a prurient revue. It has been altered to make it indecent.The ceremony is a parody of the orthodox Mass, with blasphemous interpolations.The priest must be careful, however, to consecrate the Host in the orthodox manner. The wine has been adulterated with magical drugs like deadly nightshade and vervain, but the priest must convert it into the blood of Christ.The dreadful basis of the Mass is that the bread and wine have imprisoned the Deity. Then they are subjected to terrible profanations.IndescribableThis is supposed to release the powers of evil and bring them into alliance. (It is rather the case of the mouse trying to make a friend of the cat!) In the congregational form of the Black Mass the priest, having finished his abominations—these are, quite frankly, indescribable—scatters the fragments of the Host on the floor, and the assistants scramble for the soiled fragments, the possession of which, they believe, will allow them to work their petty and malicious designs.My most memorable personal experience of the effects of black magic occurred when I was living in Scotland. The machinations of a degraded and outcast member of the Order caused my hounds to die, my servants to become insane. The struggle lasted until the recoil of the current of hated caused the luckless sorcerer to collapse.The explanation of its effects is that, if you believe passionately enough in your will to do something, then power to achieve it will accrue to you.The Black Mass in SatanismWhen the Church of Satan was founded in 1966, the Black Mass was not included among the rituals. Its founder, Anton Szandor Lavey, said it was outmoded. Church of Satan followers sometimes perform Black Masses as theatrical events.Other satanic groups have their own practices, and their own versions of the Black Mass. The Temple of Set, founded by Michael Aquino, embraces black magic as a form of self-benefit; elements of the Black Mass are incorporated into some of the rituals. The Order of the Nine Angles, founded by Stephen Brown, incorporates the Black Mass as part of its path of self-development. The blasphemy contained in it has not only mocked Christianity and Christ but also elevates Adolf Hitler as a “noble savior.” There are groups of “Traditional Secretive Satanists,” who practice the Black Mass, and “Nontraditional Satanists,” many of whom place less emphasis on it. The formats of Black Masses vary with different groups. A Satanic Black Mass is conducted for obtaining and raising magical power. JESUS is cursed and Satan is exalted. A blasphemous mass, where the altar is a nude woman and the vagina is the tabernacle, is performed. If possible, a real host stolen from a Catholic Church is placed in the vagina in the midst of reciting distorted psalms with hot music and all kind of obscenities, cursing Jesus, and honoring Satan. The fake priest ends up having real sex with the woman with the host still in the vagina. A sexual orgy by the participants follows. Other elements may include drinking urine, blood, or wine from a human skull; shouting obscenities and the names of demons, especially Beelzebub; trampling a cross; reciting blasphemous prayers and psalms; and performing other blasphemous acts. Supposedly, there are some practices of infant sacrifice and cannibalism, but these claims are doubtful. Animal sacrifices are more likely.FURTHER READING:- Baroja, Julio Caro. The World of the Witches. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.- “Black Mass.” Available online. URL: http://www.religioncults.com/Occult/Satanism/Satanism.htm\#Black%20Mass. Downloaded February 2, 2008.- “Black Mass.” Available online. URL: http://www.satanheaven.com. Downloaded February 2, 2008.- Crowley, Aleister. “Black Magic Is not a Myth.” From the Sunday Dispatch, July 2, 1933. Available online. URL: http://www.lashtal.com/nuke/module-subjects-viewpagepageid- 89.phtml. Downloaded February 2, 2008.- The Encyclopedic Sourcebook of Satanism. Edited by James R. Lewis and Jesper Aagaard Petersen. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2008.- Huysmans, J. K. La-Bas. New York: Dover, 1972.- LaVey, Anton Szandor. The Satanic Bible. New York: Avon Books, 1969.- Russell, Jeffrey B. A History of Witchcraft. London: Thames and Hudson, 1980.- Summers, Montague. The History of Witchcraft and Demonology. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1926.
Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. Rosemary Ellen Guiley. 2009.